Scratched heads are what the Pacers got when they opted to send Paul George the Thunder’s way. The confused looks came with the package of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, seen as extremely underwhelming compared to the wealth of options they had before the 2017 trade deadline, before the rookie draft, and right before they pulled the trigger on the deal. Even though the four-time All-Star depressed his value by declaring his intentions in free agency next year, he was, by all accounts, worth far more than what president of hoops operations Kevin Pritchard got.
Timing is everything, of course. When the Celtics dangled a bevy of draft assets that included the 2017 Number One pick back in February, George looked intent on keeping the address that put him on the National Basketball Association map, and Larry Bird was still the Pacers’ head honcho. Meanwhile, the stash of starters and low-first-round rookies that were put up before Draft Day failed to intrigue Pritchard, who thought to hold out for better. Well, the duo of Oladipo and Sabonis are most definitely not better, not with the highlight sporting a shaky three-point shot, iffy slash-and-kick mechanics, and lack of defensive focus while earning eight figures in the 20s, and not with the add-on still at least a couple of years away from being a reliable contributor.
Nothing in the league ever occurs in a vacuum, however, so Pritchard’s choices likely changed from moment to moment. As more movements were announced, and as the start of free agency loomed, he felt more pressure to pull the trigger on what he felt was the best he could get. He failed to go all in when he was best positioned to, and was then faced with the prospect of altogether losing whatever leverage his chips still held. Heck, even the set of warm bodies the Cavaliers were willing to give — via an initial swap with the Nuggets — look like a major upgrade in retrospect.
Pritchard was, of course, on the mark when he said George’s desire to leave the Pacers was a “gut punch” that any other franchise would have had difficulty recovering from. In any case, he was going to absorb a loss. Then again, he had opportunities to mitigate the damage more, and instead wound up with a mediocre tally that exposed the folly of his moves. And no ifs and buts; they’re going to get worse. Could his predecessor have seen the writing on the wall, and thus left before the inevitable rebuild? Bottom line, he was not fleeced, but disappointment will nonetheless reign for sometime to come.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.